Many Americans would give a resounding yes to the question of financial support to our troops. They would give the same yes to the support of job creation. Yet, they would give a resounding no to keeping our foreign aid budget at current levels. The challenge is communicating to them the role that foreign aid can play in supporting our troops overseas and creating jobs here at home. As long as there is little understanding of the national security and economic implications of foreign aid, there will be little public support.
A new framework is needed to pull the pieces together, and create a strategy that uses foreign aid as a catalyst to leverage all aspects of national power. The current $50 billion of U.S. aid money can do great things, but can do even more when it helps bring together an even larger framework for private investment and giving.
Many U.S. companies are looking to invest in African, Asian and Latin American countries—many of the same countries that are security priorities for the United States. It’s a challenge for American companies to operate in such places due to political risk and security concerns. Foreign aid money can help “buy down” the risk for such investments and operations (as well as create conditions for such investments to succeed) by empowering democracy and good governance to reduce corruption, and by helping to improve health and education.
One opportunity for such a strategy is the new country of South Sudan. We spent billions to support those affected by decades of war. Why now wouldn’t we take the opportunity to help them construct a future? We cannot afford to have another failed state in Africa; it’s in our national interest to see South Sudan succeed. Part of the key to South Sudan’s success is developing its incredible natural resources and building its infrastructure, both of which would provide the jobs and stability needed to help the new country maintain its sovereignty. And the kicker? U.S. mining, oil and construction companies could fill this need.
Foreign aid money should be partnered with private capital to share the risk of working in such a country. Likewise, corporate social responsibility dollars and corporate expertise should be partnered with foreign aid programs to improve health and education outcomes. This isn’t just generosity; it will ensure a quality local workforce, and help the local population see the benefit of U.S. foreign investment.
Successful business development overseas in turn leads to more jobs for U.S. workers as we identify markets for our products and services. Done well, this creates a virtuous cycle: at the same time as we drive new opportunities for American companies and workers, we also drive a better image of the United States abroad. And as our image improves, so does our engagement and diplomacy with other nations.
Robert Goodwin is the CEO and co-founder of Executives Without Borders. Formerly he served as a deputy assistant secretary at the Pentagon and held positions at USAID, the State Department and the White House. He is also a former Air Force Captain and Air Force Academy graduate.
In this roundtable:
Sen. John Kerry: Amid budget crisis, a defense of foreign aid
Astier M. Almedom: With Somalia,what should really scandalize the public
Bill Shore: A chronic political failure on humanitarian aid
Stuart Diamond: U.S. foreign aid: Business skills needed
Robert Goodwin: A new strategy for solving America’s foreign aid problem